Writer: Shane Black, Anthony Ragarozzi
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice, Kim Basinger, Keith David
Running time: 123mins
What’s the story: Down-on-his-luck cop turned private investigator Holland March (Gosling) and world-wearied hired muscle Jackson Healy (Crowe) discover the cases of a missing girl and a dead porn star take them on a wild journey through 1977 Los Angeles.
What’s the verdict: Despite bringing home a cool $1.2bn with Iron Man 3, Shane Black directs The Nice Guys like a man told this will be his last ever movie. A goof ball private eye, flawed but cool enforcer, a dead porn star, industrial conspiracy, a wise-cracking kid, daddy-daughter issues, lethal hit men, rubbish hit men, blue hit men, Richard Nixon, giant bees, the importance proper diction, the best action prat falling this side of Jackie Chan, it’s all in here.
Black laid out the postmodern private eye movie in his 2005 gem Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Witty self-knowing dialogue. Flippant violence. Jaundice portrayal of LA’s rich and shameless. Twisty plotting with more loose ends than a bucket of spaghetti. All held together by two name actors at the top of their game – in Kiss Kiss’ case, Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer.
Here Ryan Gosling sheds all vanity as the apathetic private dick, giving good vacant mugging at the chaos around him (and growing a brain when the plot demands it). He is a quality foil to both Angourie Rice as his precocious, potty-mouthed daughter and Crowe as his reluctant partner, Russell again reminding us how good he can be playing it for fun.
What plot drama there is centers on the missing girl, and business with Basinger (here making this something of an LA Confidential reunion with Crowe) brings up a conspiracy angle that tips a figurative fedora to classic 70s thrillers The Long Goodbye and Three Days of the Condor. The visual style is somewhere between Boogie Nights and that Beastie Boys Sabotage video…
But Black (with co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi) is most interested in barrelling his sleuthing odd couple through an ever-escalating series of well-executed violent and comedic vignettes than totally making sense.
Predictably consistency is tossed out the window like so many of the bodies liberally disposed of over the two hour run time. However, it’s all hugely enjoyable, packing punches and more laughs than most straightforward comedies, and a successful return to the neo-noir well after Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.
And kudos to Black for packing in billboard references to cheesy late 70s movies, but leaving the only nod to Star Wars as an easily missed throwaway line of dialogue. Nice…